Gendered Book Covers Are Pretty Much Ruining Fiction

by Daisy Becerra

The fight for gender equality in fiction lives on. For the past year, gendered book covers and the people fighting against them have highlighted the inner workings of sexism in the publishing biz. Who could forget the outcry over The Bell Jar’s 50th anniversary cover?



By the way, that cover is still featured on Google’s results page for the novel. Thanks for listening, publishers.

And what about author Jim Hines’ genius photo project ridiculing female character poses seen on most fantasy covers? His stiletto-wearing gams made us realize how absolutely absurd gender marketing works—even in the world of alien battles.

All of these efforts have made me realize how essentially screwed up publishers are with marketing towards specific audiences. Early in May, supporters of gender neutrality came out with another hit, this time towards young adult (YA) fiction. It all started with YA author Maureen Johnson’s #coverflip Twitter challenge.

Frustrated with the barrage of emails from male readers asking for “non-girly” covers, Johnson asked followers to submit their own renditions of bestselling covers with the author’s gender switched. The results are seriously worth seeing. Here’s a taste of some of the “feminized” ones:



And some masculine/feminine side-by-sides:


My personal favorite is W. Golding’s Lord of the Flies:


A panel at the Reading Matters conference last May picked up on Johnson’s bold move and explored sexism in YA fiction—and the dire consequences that come with it. Essentially, it’s the girls who read across genres, while the boys steer clear of anything even slightly tainted with pink or “chick-lit” décor. Those frilly, socially ascribed “feminine” covers are what YA author Alison Croggon describes as the “second-class characteristic.” As it is in society, masculinity takes up the top tier in fiction: it’s the default, and pinkified options are often second choices among boys and girls alike.

It’s scary to think that YA book cases are treated almost exactly like toy aisles. Would I have picked up The Hunger Games had it featured Katniss dressed in one of her best Capital outfits holding hands with Peeta? Uh yeah, because The Hunger Games books rule and everyone should read them. But that may not come across to the next round of young readers who might prefer something less socially stigmatized.

What are your thoughts on gendered book covers?

Sources: BBC News, The Huffington Post, The Guardian

Photos via The Huffington Post, Twitter.

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